As President Vladimir Putin further tightens his grip on power after dubious elections that gave his party an absolute majority, Russia is sliding into protracted stagnation. The Economics Ministry has adjusted downward its forecast through 2019 and Russia is now expected to underperform the global economy even more than previously anticipated, Leonid Bershidsky writes for Bloomberg.
That is the background against which Putin’s continued geopolitical games and the generational change in his team will proceed, resulting in a two-track Russia, he notes:
Its increased military and political assertiveness is paying off. Since 2014, he has hung on to Crimea, irritated and disoriented Western rivals with what’s known as “hybrid warfare” that includes everything from unacknowledged military operations to hacking. His support for growing populist movements in Europe makes the European Union less dangerous to him as an adversary, and he has built up a strong position in Syria.
“If we remain in the logic of Putin’s attempts to force the West to reconsider the global role of Russia in world politics,” the political scientist Alexander Morozov wrote on Facebook, “it is clear that not only has he completed the first stage of the quest (2014-2016) almost without casualties, but he also has begun preparing for the new phase of this ‘guerrilla war’ against the West.”
By that, Morozov means the recent reshuffle of Russia’s security apparatus and a spate of personnel changes that gives a greater role to a new generation of bureaucrats and ideologues to whom he owes nothing but who owe everything to him, Bershidsky adds.
Ironically, Putin’s design closely resembles the setup during the last years of the deposed Czar Nicholas II. And looking into history’s rear-view mirror, there is no obvious reason why current Kremlin leaders might not share the fate of czars and Soviets, should things take a serious turn for the worse, Fred Weir writes for Christian Science Monitor.
“So far, Russians appear content with their bad institutions, though at this point it’s basically because they fear things getting worse,” says Andrei Kolesnikov, an expert with the Moscow Carnegie Center. “But fundamentally this is an authoritarian system, and our experience shows that if people’s moods change drastically, they will turn out to have no special love for it.”
While Putin’s United Russia party gained 76 per cent of seats in the new lower house of parliament [in the recent elections], making things easier than ever for the Kremlin, Mr Putin has reason to worry about the longer-term future of his rule. Here is why, writes FT analyst Kathrin Hille:
Here is why. Despite the ruling party’s apparent victory, its support is eroding. Ever larger parts of the population are switching off politics, leaving Mr Putin reliant on a shrinking core of diehard backers.
Dmitry Oreshkin, a political analyst who heads an alliance of non-governmental election observers, believes that only 15 per cent of the electorate voted for UR, an estimate based on the assumption of widespread electoral fraud.
Although UR’s share of the vote jumped to 54 per cent from 49 per cent five years ago, it was on the back of a record-low turnout. In absolute numbers, the ruling party’s vote tally dropped by 4m to 28.4m since the last election.
What is more, over one-third of the ruling party’s votes appear to have been cast in the dark corners of the Russian electoral system: UR achieved its strongest results in more authoritarian regions that recorded drastically higher turnout figures but had far fewer observers and video surveillance than in other parts of the country. RTWT
How has Russia, the tottering Eurasian Nuclear Petro State, managed to blackmail the West and make it look so weak and pathetic? Lilia Shevtsova (left) asks.
The key to this mystery, in fact, begins in understanding how Putin has turned Russian weakness into an asset. He has done so, first, by turning Russia into a risk-taking power, ready to challenge the risk-averse leaderships of the West. But even more important than this is the fact that Putin’s Russia has made the most of the present interregnum, in which the West has lost its bearing, she writes for The American Interest:
Putin’s Russia has thus succeeded in adapting to the ambiguities of a globalized world much faster and more thoroughly than the liberal democracies. True, the Crimea annexation and war with Ukraine have to some extent reminded the West of its principles. But the Western elite, long used to living in a postmodern world, is already looking for ways to return to it. In this world, there is no “containment”—only words like “competition” and “cooperation.”
The Kremlin has been extremely lucky, or extraordinarily skilled, in playing a weak hand without any real aces up its sleeve. It is dealing with a Western establishment that is determined to maintain the status quo at any price, even if that means accommodation. The Kremlin is operating in a time when the Western model of democracy and capitalism is in a crisis with no end in sight. The very features of globalization preclude a real containment policy: How can the West deter Russia when it is enmeshed in a web of economic and security interdependency with the Russian elite.
Finally, the Kremlin has been very fortunate in pushing its narrative about Russia’s “grievances and humiliation” at Western hands, Shevtsova adds:
This mythology has become the dominant story told in the West to justify the “accomodationist” approach to Russia. In fact, the Kremlin owes a great deal to the proponents of this “grievance theory;” this is the main source of legitimacy for its recent assertiveness. … The postmodern ambiguity and cynicism that gradually emerged on the international scene after the collapse of the Soviet Union is probably the best thing that could have happened for the Russian system of personalized power. The liberal democracies dialed back their ideological pressure and relaxed their principles; the once bright lines between peace and war, legal and illegal, normal and abnormal, right and wrong all melted away, freeing the Kremlin to play its imitation game. RTWT
Long Soviet-style lines are reappearing in Moscow stores, Paul Goble notes at Window on Eurasia.
While good fortune has helped Moscow pursue its Suspense Doctrine on the international scene, domestically we see a different picture, notes Shevtsova, who delivered the National Endowment for Democracy’s 2014 Lipset Lecture on Russia’s Political System: The Drama of Decay. The Kremlin can’t afford to be reckless at home, she writes:
Well aware of Russia’s dwindling resources, Putin is attempting to minimize risks on the domestic front by building additional layers of security. The creation of a new National Guard subordinated to the President, the kadry reshuffling, the shift to a new regime based on a younger generation of loyalists, the total erasure of any real choice in the recent Duma elections (won by the ruling United Russia party, with low turnout and a lack of real competition, enforced by the authorities) and upcoming presidential election—all of these demonstrate the Kremlin’s domestic insecurity.
The Kremlin has won, for now. But the fact that most Russians now believe that change cannot be achieved through the ballot box is not a promising sign for those in power, opposition activist Vladimir V. Kara-Murza (leftt) writes for World Affairs:
Sooner or later, change will come—because of mounting economic troubles, the regime’s new foreign policy adventures, or sheer fatigue with a leader who has been in power for a generation. “There are only two kinds of dialogue with the government—in elections or on the barricades,” [opposition figure Mikhail] Khodorkovsky noted. “These are the two choices facing true patriots and citizens of Russia.” When the first option stops working, people inevitably start to think about the second.